Golf Canada CEO Scott Simmons On The Current State of Canadian Golf
by Scott A. Sumner
It was fun to sit down with Golf Canada CEO Scott Simmons and talk about golf in Canada today. Here is my interview.
How has the membership program in Golf Canada gone for you?
The membership is going well. It isn’t growing as fast as we would like, but it is catching on. What we are trying to do is get Canadians to understand and embrace what Golf Canada is trying to do for the game as a lot had changed since our name change to Golf Canada. The RCGA is still the legal entity of Golf Canada and has been the governing body of the game since 1895. We still do the rules, handicapping, amateur status, slope rating, national championships and so on for golf but now with this NSO National Sport Organization status we are held accountable for growing the sport from a participation and excellence point of view. We want golfers across Canada to understand joining Golf Canada isn't just about someone who needs a handicap factor. It is really about a small donation to help grow the game you love. Without funding from Canadian golfers we can’t do what we need to to grow the game. Yes we get funding from the federal government and corporate partners but the more funding we get from individuals the more we can do for the game. Our membership program is growing, not at the rate we were hoping for, but we are on track.
How many members does Golf Canada have now?
There are roughly 6 million Canadians who pick up a golf club and play at least 1 game per year so a roughly 20 % participation rate, arguably the highest in the world. Roughly half or 3 million are avid golfers who play 10 or more games. Of those 3 million only 500,000 are a member of a club and many of those clubs put the membership as a line item on your membership fee and that represents 350,000 members, which is excellent for us. We are trying to tap in to that vast majority of those 3 million golfers that are not members of clubs. We need to go after the public. We have 20 to 25,000 like that now but we are still growing the brand. We all make decisions when we buy something like a cup or coffee or a car so we have to grow our image and have made great strides in that area. The more that we do to show we are doing great things to grow the game that support will come.
We are not limiting ourselves to the membership approach for revenue and looking at other avenues like Sport Canada with the Own the Podium program for more government funds now that golf is back at the Olympics. We are also looking for more corporate partners who want to use golf to grow their business. There are many other avenues and approaches besides membership.
The cost of the membership with Golf Canada in Ontario is $27.50 ande $10.00 goes to Golf Canada and $17.50 goes to the provincial association. The membership fee amount varies from $20 to $30 across Canada.
How has this years RBC Canadian Open gone?
The 2012 RBC Canadian Open has gone well. I couldn’t be happier. Number 1 when I joined Golf Canada 5 years ago was to grow the championship. I’m real passionate about moving the RBC Canadian Open around to Canada’s best golf courses, which the players like. The number 1 criterion for a PGA golfer to attend is the golf course, then the date. Using our charter plane and with team RBC we are getting great fields. We can’t control the weather or leader board but the players like the old style courses we have used recently like St George’s, Shaughnessy and Hamilton. I would like to go back to Royal Montreal as well.
Next year we go back to Glen Abbey. I think it is the best spectator golf course in the world and it has really matured. Glen Abbey has made Golf Canada what we are today because of the funds gained from the sale to Club Link. It was a great decision to own Glen Abbey but today we are in a cycle around the country when it was best not to own.
We will make a reasonable profit with this year’s event, which we will invest back into Canadian amateur golf. We want to use the RBC Canadian Open as a kind of a promotional vehicle with all the coverage you get from the media. It helps to grow Golf Canada and the game of golf. It serves many purposes in my opinion including branding messages as well as financial.
The RBC sponsorship has helped the event quite a bit?
RBC is critical and even more important they share our vision.
The RBC sponsored player’s come to the event, which helps you secure a pretty good field before you even start recruiting. Guys like Els, Furyk, Mayhan and Kuchar are star players. As you can tell non RBC sponsored guys like Schwartzel, Oosthausen and Villegas come here as well for even more elite players.
This year the players came from the British Open on a charter flight right to the Hamilton Airport. We partner with the John Deere event in Milwaukee with the plane. The players, families and caddies were here by 11pm Sunday night. They pay similar to their own commercial ticket, which helps us to subsidize the plane cost.
RBC CEO Gord Nixon had been an incredible friend to sports in general with what they have done with the Olympics and hockey. I think they understand the power of sport and what it means to our culture and society and lets be honest it helps them build their business. They share our passion and enthusiasm for the game of golf and we are both in sync in terms of what we want to do. It is a wonderful marriage. They have renewed for another five years so we have them now through 2017. The RBC Canadian Open is a big event depending on the year, a $15 to $17 million-dollar venture in terms of revenues and expenses. The revenues come from many sources but RBC makes a big impact.
Do you feel the current dates are best for the RBC Canadian Open?
The dates may change in the future but for 2013 and 2014 are the same. When the PGA Tour launched the Fed Ex Cup it really changed the schedule. There are significant costs associated with different slots on the schedule. You have to ask yourself if you will get a better field with a different date. I’m not sure and it could cost more for instance with television costs and purse subsidy. RBC and Golf Canada are happy with the current dates but you are always looking at other options. We want to make sure this event stays on the front burner in the minds of players.
There has been some talk of the Canadian Tour changing name etc?
The Canadian Tour rebranding may happen with the PGA Tour. The Canadian Tour has been around for a while and I think it is an important part of the Canadian golfing fabric. I think a partnership with the PGA Tour may help with the vision somewhat like what they are doing in South America where it would be the level below the web.com tour. If you had say 10 events in Canada, players would earn points and money and the top players would get their cards to the web.com tour and that is how eventually you get you way up to the big show. I know the PGA Tour has been up here at the Canadian Tour events and am assuming a decision will come before this year-end.